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Out on Bay Street celebrates LGBT leaders

Awards recognize professionals who promote inclusion in corporate workplaces

Premier Kathleen Wynne will be present to accept her award during Out on Bay Street’s annual conference on Sept 17, 2015. Credit: Adam Coish

Seven LGBT professionals, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, have been recognized by Out on Bay Street for their involvement in promoting inclusion in corporate workplaces across Canada.

The Leaders to be Proud Of awards reception will be during Out on Bay Street’s annual conference at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Sept 17, 2015. The awards will praise the winner’s ability to act as a role model or mentor for young LGBT students and professionals. As well, two post-secondary student leaders will receive scholarships from the organization.

“In order to provide mentors and role models [for students], we like to highlight those who have been trailblazers in their profession, whether they are advocates for workplace inclusion or if they have achieved a high degree of success,” Out on Bay Street’s president Japneet Kaur tells Daily Xtra.

“They are always extraordinary individuals, they have really done a lot in their careers as a professional, and a lot of them pushed the dial in terms of LGBTQ inclusion,” she says.

Wynne has been presented with Out on Bay Street’s Lifetime Achievement Award which she’ll personally accept at the event in September. Kaur said it was important to recognize Wynne’s “monumental” win back in June as the first openly gay elected premier — and more significantly, her role as the first openly gay head of government in North America.

But the one aspect of this year’s awards that set it apart from previous years, Kaur says, is the greater level of gender diversity among the winners: five women, including one trans woman, are recipients. One female student also received a scholarship.

“It’s been great to a discussion of women to the forefront as well. Within Bay Street and the corporate world there has been big push to recognize women . . . it was important for us to showcase these role models as well,” she says.

Paul Skippen, a partner at Deloitte who helped craft the idea of the awards, agrees. “I think there’s a pretty good slate of diverse backgrounds, both from an LGBT perspective as well as from a professional perspective,” he says.

Skippen said that he wanted to start these awards as a way to provide visible examples of success for younger LGBT students, and to highlight the fact that there are many LGBT people who are currently thriving in the corporate world. He adds that it was particularly difficult to judge many of the nominees this year because many were successful “for very different reasons.”

While awards such as these hint at a growing level of inclusion within the workplace, some challenges may still exist. For Skippen, he notes that it might be harder for an older professional to feel comfortable being out, compared to a younger person from a more accepting generation.

“When students join [the workplace] it would be quite common for them to be out, versus some of the [workers] who have 40 years-plus experience,” Skippen says.

When senior professionals joined decades ago, “that would’ve been at a time where they could’ve lost their job or they even could’ve lost their apartment if people happened to know they were LGBT.”

Out of Bay Street’s mandate is to fight that stigma, and to continue to work with many businesses on Bay Street and Canada’s broader corporate community.

“As a student, you may not be fully comfortable being out in the workplace,” Kaur explains. “There’s so much research and evidence pointing to that if you can’t be fully yourself in the workplace, you’re not going to be really performing your best.”